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What We Know So Far About Obama’s Plan for Free Community College

Topics: Current Events

Yesterday, President Obama unveiled his plan to offer eligible college students two years of community college for free. More information about the America’s College Promise proposal will be revealed today, alongside an American Technical Training Fund proposal, which would expand technical training programs that meet employer’s needs and prepare more Americans for higher paying jobs. Here’s what we know about the plan right now.


(Photo Credit: jurvetson/Flickr)

The America’s College Promise proposal would make two years of community college as free as high school for students with good grades.

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This proposal would create a partnership with states that would help them waive tuition in high-quality programs for responsible students. Those who enroll in community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make measurable progress toward completing a program of study, would have their tuition eliminated. Restructuring the community college experience, along with free tuition, could lead to gains in student enrollment and employment. Earning a college degree greatly improves workers’ chances of securing a good job.

There will be an emphasis on building high-quality community colleges.

Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that do one of two things. The first option is program offerings that are fully transferable to local, public, four-year colleges and universities. This would allow students a chance to earn half of the total credits needed for a four-year degree for free. The second option is occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to degrees and/or certifications that are in demand among employers. Programs that do not meet one of these criteria would not be eligible for the free tuition program.

Additionally, participating colleges would need to adopt evidence-based institutional reforms that improve student outcomes. For example, the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) offering at the City University of New York waives tuition, helps students pay for costs, and provides advising and scheduling assistance to better meet the needs of students.

The responsibility would be shared with states.

States that elect to participate in the program would receive federal funding to cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college, and they would be expected to contribute the remaining funds needed to eliminate tuition for eligible students. There are a few other requirements. Per the White House:

“States must also commit to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone. States will have flexibility to use some resources to expand quality community college offerings, improve affordability at four-year public universities, and improve college readiness, through outreach and early intervention.”

The America Technical Training Fund would expand the availability of technical training programs.

In an effort of improve the availability of high-quality, innovative programs that achieve a higher than average completion rate and improved employment outcomes, funding will be awarded to those programs that hit the mark:

“The focus of the discretionary budget proposal would be to help high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills to work into growing fields with significant numbers of middle-class jobs that local employers are trying to fill such as energy, IT, and advanced manufacturing. This program will fund the start-up of 100 centers and scale those efforts in succeeding years. Smaller grants would help to bring together partners and start a pilot program. Larger grants would be used for expanding programs based on evidence of effectiveness, which could include past performance on graduation rates, job placement rates and placement wages.”

An estimated 9 million students would be eligible to save an average of $3,800 per year. Details regarding these figures, along with information regarding the programs’ annual cost, should be available soon. They will certainly be prominently featured in the president’s upcoming State of the Union address. In the meantime, Obama is beginning to speak about the proposals, even posting a short video on Facebook.

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How would these proposals change education, training, and the economy? How might they change the lives of those who participate? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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